November 22, 1963: Can I Get a Witness

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On the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, I wrote a post at The Hits Just Keep on Comin’ about what I found in the morning paper on that day, which was just another ordinary day until noontime. This post is based on that one.

November 22, 1963, was a Friday. The weather forecast for Madison, Wisconsin, is for mild weather, occasional rain, and possible thundershowers, with a high around 60. The Wisconsin legislature adjourned last night, although the governor is rumored to be considering a special session to address a controversial highway bill. A state representative is embroiled in scandal over a shady stock transaction. U2 pilot Joe Hyde of LaGrange, Georgia, is missing after wreckage of his plane was found in the Gulf of Mexico, presumably having crashed on a reconnaissance flight over Cuba. President Kennedy and his wife are in Texas. Newspapers report the catcalls he received at some stops, and his wife’s popularity.

Dave Fronek will start at quarterback for the Wisconsin Badgers in their season-ending game against Minnesota tomorrow, and injured quarterback Bart Starr could play for the Packers on Sunday against San Francisco. The high school basketball season is set to begin tonight. The Badger Drive-In theater in Madison is still open despite the lateness of the season and has a quadruple feature tonight: Juvenile Jungle, Young and Wild, Unwed Mothers, and The Wayward Girl. Friday-night diners can enjoy lobster for $2 at Namio’s and the Tiki or pay just $1.75 at Nate’s Place. Those staying in tonight can look forward to episodes of Bob Hope Chrysler Theater, Burke’s Law and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour on TV. At 7:00, Madison radio station WISM-FM (at 98.1) will present The Stereo Demonstration Hour.

On the new Billboard Hot 100 coming out tomorrow, “I’m Leaving It Up to You” by Dale and Grace is the new #1, knocking “Deep Purple” by Nino Tempo and April Stevens to #3. “Washington Square” by the Village Stompers is up to #2 from #4; “Sugar Shack” by Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs is down to #4 from #2. The only new song among the Top 10 is “Dominique” by the Singing Nun, up to #9 from #19. Six songs are new among the Top 40, including “Be True to Your School” by the Beach Boys and “Since I Fell for You” by Lenny Welch, which blast to #19 and #20 respectively. Also new in the Top 40: Marvin Gaye’s “Can I Get a Witness,” the followup to his first Top 10 hit, “Pride and Joy,” at #33. Just outside the Top 40: “Louie Louie” by the Kingsmen at #41.

Perspective From the Present: Practically nothing happened that weekend as people expected it might on Friday morning, with one exception: controversially, the NFL played its games as scheduled on Sunday; the Packers won 28-10 in front of 45,000 fans in Milwaukee. Badger fans were en route to Minnesota by train and the players by plane when news of the assassination broke on Friday; although University of Minnesota officials initially wanted to play, the game would eventually be postponed to the next Thursday, Thanksgiving Day. Basketball games were canceled; stores, theaters, and restaurants closed; TV stations carried assassination coverage, and radio stations either reported the news or played somber music. On Friday night, Madison was drenched by cold rain.

At breakfast, Madison had been expecting another ordinary autumn weekend. By shortly after lunchtime, the world was transformed. I quote again the single best thing ever written about the assassination, from essayist Lance Morrow, written for Time magazine on the 20th anniversary: “The real 1960s began on the afternoon of November 22, 1963 . . . . It came to seem that Kennedy’s murder opened some malign trap door in American culture, and the wild bats flapped out.”